There have been many instances of heroic sacrifice in the Marvel Universe. In 1970's "Amazing Spider-Man #90, Police Captain George Stacy let himself be crushed by falling rubble in order to save the life of a child. In 1988, in "New Mutants" #60, Cypher perished by jumping in front of a bullet meant for his teammate Wolfsbane. To longtime Thor fans, the definitive heroic sacrifice came in 1985's "The Mighty Thor" #362, wherein Skurge the Executioner stood alone against the legions of Hell to protect the escape of his comrades, Thor and Balder, who had journeyed into the infernal realm in order to rescue the trapped souls of a number of mortals.
This December, in "Thor: God-Sized," writer Matt Fraction and a host of artists including Doug Braithwaite, Mike Allred, Dan Brereton and Marko Djurdjevic reexamine Skurge's sacrifice and what it meant to some of Asgard's most prominent inhabitants. CBR News spoke with Fraction about the special one-shot.
Skurge may have died protecting Thor, but when he made his debut 24 years earlier in the pages of "Journey into Mystery" #103, it was as a villain. The Executioner was lead down the path of darkness because of his love for the nefarious Enchantress, who made him a pawn in her schemes.
"Skurge is an outsider and he was always kind of a joke because he's so lovelorn," Fraction told CBR News. "He was always kind of the butt of jokes and that was really my favorite part of Walt Simonson's handling of him."
Simonson of course wrote and drew issues #337-367 of "The Mighty Thor" in the 1980s, and his work with the characters is considered definitive.
"Simonson takes [Skurge], this kind of goofy heartbroken lug who was basically just the Enchantress's muscle and her rejection turns him into something else," Fraction continued. "Who hasn't had a bad break up and wanted to go join the army? Only in Skurge's case, it was an army that has to fight the legions of the undead."
Skurge's last stand may have been legendary, but when "God-Sized" begins, The Executioner's fellow Asgardians are finding it hard to correctly remember their fallen comrade. "Basically, Balder realizes he's remembering Skurge wrong. His memory of Skurge doesn't feel right," Fraction explained. "He remembers Skurge as a fat, drunk poet with a lute. So he goes to Thor and asks him what he remembers about Skurge. Thor remembers Skurge as a butcher and that they use to run through his butcher shop and play when they were kids. And Loki remembers Skurge as a woman, a crazy cat lady who lived by a well. So the three of them are aware that something is happening and they're trying to figure out who's screwing with their memories of who Skurge was. And as they're on this quest together we shift perspectives; you get a different narrator each chapter."
Balder and Thor were an important part of Skurge's last stand, so it's natural they would want to find out what's going on, but Loki - who has since the old days become not a god but a goddess - has her own equally important reason for joining Balder and Thor on their quest. "Loki's motive is never trick a trickster," Fraction said. "She's like, 'The only person who hates this trickery crap more than you is me and if I'm getting tricked I want answers!' Which kind of gets back a little more into the Norse mythology where these guys would go from loving to hating each other in between breaths."
Naturally, as a kind of sequel to the classic Skurge story, The Enchantress is also a key player in "Thor: God-Sized." "She's in the story and her heartache is a big part of what's going on," Fraction confirmed. "She is basically trying to recreate Skurge because she realizes she loves him and is heartbroken and lonely without him, but as she's crafting this world bending magic to bring him back to life it's disrupting the way things are and causing reality to shift moment to moment."
Like Matt Fraction's other Thor work, "God-Sized" has a healthy supply of action, but The Enchantress's attempts to bring Skurge back to life come with a meta-textual element as well. "I really wanted to pay tribute to the Simonson run and my first reaction to being allowed to touch the toys on the Thor shelf wa, 'I should do a Skurge story!' And the second thought I had was, 'Oh, that would absolutely ruin Skurge's last story because it's perfect!'" Fraction explained. "That kind of became the gist of it. Do we do harm to our legends when we try to bring them back from the dead? And just because you can bring Skurge back from the dead doesn't mean it's such a good idea."
To help bring to life Fraction's tale of Skurge's enduring legacy, editor Warren Simons recruited four different artists, each with their own distinct styles. "Doug Braithwaite and I had such a blast doing 'Secret Invasion: Thor.' It was ridiculous fun and this kind of came up right after so it was like, 'Great. Let's keep it rolling,'" Fraction stated. "Mike Allred can do that neo-retro thing so he's perfect for the sections of the story where we're in a Stan Lee-Jack Kirby style locale. And I worked with Dan Brereton on 'Iron Fist' and we've been looking for something else to do together."
"God-Sized" is a tale that lends itself to multiple artists because of the different character perspectives and the way reality shifts throughout the story. "I always try to come up with a story-driven way to have an art switch. So there's different narratives, different narrators and different eras," Fraction said. "It all doubles back on itself and plays into the whys and wherefores of the story."
Matt Fraction has kept quite busy chronicling the adventures of Thor in 2008, with projects like "Secret Invasion: Thor" and the double-sized "Thor: Ages of Thunder" specials he created with artist Patrick Zircher. "God-Sized" closes out Fraction's run on the Thunder God, at least for a while. "I feel like I should take a little break," he said. "It's been an awful lot of fun and I've worked with great collaborations. It's been a joy, but now it feels like it's time to step away from it for awhile."
"Thor: God-Sized" is a completely new-reader friendly tale also designed to appeal to longtime fans of Thor. In fact, Fraction took extra special care in crafting the story because he knows that even though the tale of Skurge's last stand is over 23 years old, it's still as powerful today as it was back then. "I just hope I don't fuck it up," he said. "Skurge had such an epic death. It was handle brilliantly by Simonson both as a writer and an artist. It really punched you. It was an effective, moving death and yet it wasn't even the end of the story! It was just really powerful and really wonderful. Everything I love about Simonson's run is summed up in that one issue, so I'm trying really hard to not fuck it up."
"Thor: God-Sized" goes on sale December 17 from Marvel Comics.